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Mexico celebrates its first female president

Mexico makes history with its first female president

Claudia Sheinbaum, an environmental scientist and former mayor of Mexico City, was overwhelmingly elected Mexico’s first female president on Sunday, a historic milestone in a country rife with gender-based violence and misogyny.

With most of the votes counted, Mexico’s electoral agency estimates that Sheinbaum is on track to win the race with nearly 59% of the vote. Her closest rival, Xóchitl Gálvez is projected to get 28% of the vote, with the other opposition candidate, Jorge Álvarez Máynez, taking just over 10% of the vote.

In her victory speech to supporters, Sheinbaum said both rivals had conceded and had called to congratulate her on her victory. “I will become the first woman president of Mexico,” she told the crowd.

The man widely seen as her political mentor, outgoing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, posted his congratulations on X, formerly known as Twitter.

 

Sheinbaum has been the leading candidate to win the presidency for more than a year. In a country with one of the highest rates of murder against women in the world, Sheinbaum’s victory underscores the advances women have made in the political sphere.

The 61-year-old climate scientist was part of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change team that would go on to share a Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore in 2007. Now, Sheinbaum — whose Jewish maternal grandparents immigrated from Bulgaria before the Holocaust — will hold the most powerful office in the country.

Elena Poniatowska, 92, one of Mexico’s most distinguished writers, has chronicled decades of women’s history in the country. “I’ve always believed in women,” Poniatowska told NPR, days before the election. “I think it’s not a dream. I think it’s a battle that has been won.”
Elena Poniatowska poses for a portrait in her home in Mexico City on May 28, 2024.

Despite the historic nature of Sheinbaum’s victory, many voters in Mexico see it less as a reflection of gender equality and more as a referendum on the last six years of López Obrador, colloquially known by his initials as AMLO.

He is one of the most divisive — and popular — figures in Mexican history: a folksy populist who has implemented social programs that have helped millions of people rise out of poverty but who critics say has undermined democratic institutions while empowering the military.

“I don’t have a lot of life left to live, but I will support him to the death,” said Morales, 77, who is retired. Morales rattled off a list of reasons: López Obrador has started “marvelous projects” like new train lines and oil refineries; he gives a monthly pension to elderly Mexicans and, most importantly, he takes care of the poor.

 

Under Mexico’s Constitution, presidents can only serve one six-year term.

Sheinbaum is López Obrador’s political protégée. She started her political career as his environmental minister after he was elected mayor of Mexico City in 2000. She has been unwaveringly loyal ever since, even supporting his pro-oil energy agenda despite her environmental background.

While Sheinbaum lacks López Obrador’s charisma and popular appeal, she has a reputation for being analytical, disciplined and exacting. Most importantly, she has promised to support López Obrador’s policies and popular social programs, including a universal pension benefit for seniors as well as providing cash payments to low-income residents.

“Claudia represents the continuation of AMLO,” said Norma Bautista Herrera, who sells vegetables at a market in Mexico City. After López Obrador’s election in 2018, Bautista Herrera began receiving monthly payments of 660 pesos, roughly $38, to help her support her 11-year-old daughter. With that money, she buys household goods like soap, eggs, sugar and Clorox.

Gálvez, Sheinbaum’s nearest competitor for the presidency, is an Indigenous, pro-business tech entrepreneur who represented several establishment opposition parties. Despite her compelling life story, Gálvez could never distance herself from the corruption and disenchantment that voters associated with those parties.

Many who cast their vote for Gálvez were more motivated by her promised break from López Obrador and the electoral power of his Morena party than Gálvez’s campaign promises. In a country that saw one-party rule for 70 years until 2000, they worry about López Obrador’s moves to undermine judicial independence and his security policy that has resulted in record high homicides.

“He’s a dictator, and Sheinbaum is his puppet,” said Almarosa Anaya, standing outside a polling center in Mexico City’s upscale Roma Norte neighborhood with her two adult daughters. She said López Obrador wants to turn Mexico into a communist country, “like Venezuela and Cuba.”

 

These elections have also been historic for another grim reason: They have been one of the most violent. In the run up to these elections, more than 30 candidates were assassinated.

In the small town of San Nicolás Tolentino in Puebla state, voting went on as normal. But in the church nearby, family and friends gathered for the funeral of Jorge Luis Huerta Cabrera.

Huerta was running for the city council as a candidate for the Green party but he was gunned down on Friday. As people voted, Huerta’s casket was carried through the town. Church bells tolled and fireworks exploded in the midday sun.

“No one knows who is next,” Huerta’s father, José Huerta Moctezuma, said.

His son, he said, always told him he was born for politics. “He was hardheaded,” he said. “He did what he wanted.”

In the end, he said, it was a rival party member who shot him to death.

“We need a reform that changes the social fabric, that brings peace and justice, because it’s not fair that we are forced to live this way.”

 

Sheinbaum will have to tackle growing violence and a host of other pressing issues when she takes office on Oct. 1.

She has a significant mandate, with her Morena party and their two main allies winning a majority in Congress.

But she faces the largest budget deficit since the 1980s, growing power of the cartels and the perennially complicated relationship with the United States.

Sheinbaum reassured voters in her victory speech that she represented continuity and would “govern for everyone.”

“Even though many Mexicans do not fully agree with our project, we will have to walk in peace and harmony to continue building a fair and more prosperous Mexico.”

source: npr.

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